In 1971, anthropologist Dr. William Bass (seen above) founded the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Facility, aka the "Body Farm." On those three acres in Knoxville, dozens of lifeless human bodies lie in various states of decomposition in the name of science and education. Alan Bellows of Damn Interesting paid a visit. From the article, which is not for the squeamish:
From a short distance the male figure almost appeared to be napping among the hummingbirds and squirrels, draped as he was over the pebbled ground. But something about his peculiar pose evoked a sense of grim finality– the body language of the deceased...Link
The students knelt alongside the slumped form, seemingly untroubled by the acrid, syrupy tang of human decay which hung in the air. They remarked on the amount of decomposition that had become evident since their last visit, such as the sloughed skin and distended midsection. The insects which feasted upon the decommissioned man were of specific interest, prompting a number of photographs and note-jottings. After surveying the scene to their satisfaction, the students strolled across the glade to examine a considerably more decayed corpse in the trunk of an abandoned car. Their lack of alarm wasn't altogether surprising, for they were part of the organization responsible for dumping these corpses– along with dozens more– throughout the otherwise serene forest....
As the lifeless subjects are interred into the grisly forest hideaway, each is assigned an anonymous identification number. Some are situated to provide interesting decomposition vectors, while others are used to reconstruct specific circumstances for police investigations. At any given time, several dozen perished persons are scattered around the hillside within automobiles, cement vaults, suitcases, plastic bags, shallow graves, pools of water, or deposited directly upon the earth. Except when clothing is necessary for a particular study, cadavers are disrobed, and frequently certain factors such as fire and chemicals are introduced to measure their effects. Grad students and professors return periodically to check on the subjects' progress, with occasional visits from police officers or FBI agents undergoing training.
Previously on BB:
• Vultures halt "body farms" plans Link
• Forensic anthropology in Glenn and Helen Show podcast Link
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.